There are things we say in the kitchen, a codified lexicon, that explain some of the kitchen mentality at Ko. “Make it soigne” means make it right and make it perfect.
It’s something you hear a lot in traditional French kitchens. No mistakes, no misunderstandings. Make it the best.
Do not fuck it up.
It’s a simple thing.
“Make it right”.
Just do it properly. But any cook will tell you that the apparently simplest things can often turn out to be the hardest to accomplish well.
Ever burnt toast?
This simple mantra – “make it right” – underpins much of David Chang’s approach to his breathtaking food, a collision of Korean cuisine with Western standards that’s as inventive and creative as it is audacious.
Momofuku is something that’s difficult to define. It’s a concept that’s grown out of a noodle bar in New York’s East Village into a small chain of highly regarded restaurants that remain casual and unusual despite their success. New York Times restaurant critic Peter Meehan calls Momofuku “the anti-restaurant” in his introduction to Momofuku - so many things are at once wrong and right, bucking again prevailing expectations of what a restaurant should be.
This book is Chang’s first attempt to distill the ethos of his restaurant onto the printed page.
And is it good? Yes, it’s good. Breathtaking, absorbing, inspiring. Good.
Momofuku is a glimpse behind the door of Chang’s kitchen. Many cookbooks claim to deliver this, to draw the reader and the home cook into a different culinary world, but few succeed as resoundingly as Chang does here. I often read cookbooks that are technically good, brilliant, even, but which leave me cold. They do nothing for me. They prompt me to think about what I’m going to cook from them, to make little lists of obscure ingredients, to get on the train to Leeds with the sole aim of raiding the shelves at Wing Lee Hong.
They don’t inspire me in the way that this one does.
It’s the perfect balance between the philosophy of Chang’s food and the recipes themselves that make Momofuku such an engrossing book. Chang recognises that food is nothing without context, without history and a sense of place and purpose, a sense of its importance.
One of the new cooks was fucking up oysters left and right, so I made him shuck a dozen perfectly and then we ate them ssam style: wrapped up in lettuce with rice, kimchi and some shredded pork shoulder that was otherwise destined for the ramen bowl…So there, in the cramped, dark, subterranean kitchen of Noodle Bar, I ate the best bo ssam of my life.
This is food that people want to eat, food that draws people in with something like a nice, easy butter, gently flavoured with bay or a simple bowl of ramen, and then challenges them to debone an entire chicken, roll is up with transglutaminase and serve it as a pan roasted ‘brick’, or to take on Momofuku’s famous steamed pork buns, where patience, practice and technique are everything.
The book is loosely arranged around each of Chang’s restaurants, with dishes from each included. The different style and atmosphere of each restaurant – Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar and Ko – is present in the food and in the pages, with the hints and tricks needed to pull each dish off included. Longer introductions set the tone and provide context for many of the recipes.
Chang is the type of chef that chefs want to be. He has a direct style, a cutting edge to his writing that displays a deep understanding of food and why food is good.
Momofuku shows a deep respect for food, but it isn’t reverent towards it…instead, it’s an inventive and challenging book.
It shows how Chang has consistently challenged notions of how food should be cooked and served, bringing the best in Korean and Western food together into a superb example of fusion cooking at it’s very best.